Letter From Mr. Hurley
Rutherford is Overcrowded and outdated
An enrollment increase is a major factor in the Sept. 24 bond referendum. Enrollment has risen slightly but steadily in recent years, and forecasts show that will continue at a pace of about 27 students per year for at least the next five years. That’s a testament to the desirability of Rutherford, but it has also resulted in overcrowding and inefficiency. It might sound like a manageable number, but it’s like adding a new classroom of students every year. Daily observations by teachers, students and parents have pointed to this problem for years, and a 2017 state report verified it with hard numbers. That Department of Education report showed that every one of Rutherford’s schools are operating at a capacity that is out of line with efficiency standards. In daily practice, that can be seen with very tight scheduling and including more students in classes than is advised.
The proposal would add needed space for classrooms as well as rooms that accommodate learning in other ways, such as gym or multipurpose space, and converting older areas into updated classrooms. For project details, including a school-by-school breakdown, click here.
Even without higher enrollment, Rutherford schools are showing their age. The problem is visible not only in infrastructure like drafty windows and moisture-damaged floors, but in facilities that are not meeting today’s educational expectations. Science labs from the 1970s don’t meet national standards; gyms are only half the size as recommended; kindergarten classrooms don’t have restrooms that meet state regulations, and buildings do not conform to the Americans with Disabilities Act. Because bond-funded projects qualify for state funding, it makes sense to move those improvements out of the annual operating budget and into the bond plan. Learn more about the benefits of a bond referendum in the FAQs section.
What's the HIstory?
- 2012-13 - A committee studied the modern approach to middle school instruction and found it would have great benefits for Rutherford. But that evolution couldn’t happen at both Pierrepont and Union, because of budget and space.
- 2014-15 - That committee was reconvened for further consideration of not just the goal of a middle school program, but increasing concerns that growing enrollment would create overcrowding at Pierrepont within the next five years. A professional demographic study confirmed that concern was valid.
- Modular classrooms were proposed for Union School to ease the space crunch at Pierrepont. The plan was rejected because that significant cost would provide only a short-term fix for classroom space, and no fix for science lab or gym space.
- 2015 – The Board of Education formed a new Long Term Strategic Planning (LTSP) Committee to develop a reorganization plan. The need was dire: Without change, all the district’s fourth graders would no longer fit at Pierrepont.
- 2016-17 – The school year began with a reorganized structure of grades 4-6 at Pierrepont and grades 7-8 at Union. It as a short-term solution to overcrowding. In the long-term, the reorganization enabled the creation of a rigorous and rich middle school curriculum, which had a ripple effect of raising the standards at the elementary and high school levels.
- The LTSP Committee continued its research by visiting every school and meeting with every principal to get a firsthand feel for everyday life at Rutherford schools. The committee also offered a survey to gather opinions from the entire school community.
- May 2017 – That Committee presented its findings to the Board of Education: Rutherford School District needed more space, and more or renovated space to meet specific needs. The board asked the district’s architect to develop plans to address those needs.
- 2017-18 – The architect’s preliminary report was presented, and the plan was refined throughout the year. The state Department of Education approved the plan, and by June the school board voted to put a bond referendum to voters.
- October 2018 – Voters rejected the plan. After hearing community feedback, the school board and its advisers returned to the planning stage to find different approaches to school district needs.
- 2018-19 – School leaders worked to balance the very real needs of the schools with the messages received through the bond referendum process. They pared down plans significantly, focusing on what would meet minimum needs with a smaller Scope of Work and smaller price tag. The 2019 plan to borrow up to $45.3 million reflects those goals and also capitalizes on state aid that would cover about $9 million of that cost.
- Sept. 24, 2019 - Voters will consider the ONE RUTHERFORD proposal that recognizes that all taxpayers have contributed over time to the success of Rutherford Public Schools, and all benefit from its success in various ways.